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Mr Erdogan, who has forged good ties with both Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin, has broken his silence on the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine. In a tone notoriously more diplomatic than that of Western leaders, the Turkish president claimed he sees the two nations as “friendly countries”. In an apparent attempt not to spoil his relations with any of those involved in the conflict, he added: “Turkey supports Ukraine’s battle to protect its territorial integrity.” Omer Celik, the spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, said no sactions against Russia were on the cards at present.
Mr Erdogan’s remarks came as Kiev’s envoy to Ankara, Vasyl Bodnar, urged Turkey to close the Bosphorus straits, over which the country has control under a 1936 pact, to Russian warships.
The request follows six Russian warships and a submarine transiting the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits to the Black Sea for what Moscow called naval drills near Ukraine waters earlier this month.
Mr Bodnar told reporters that President Zelenskiy had asked for the help of Turkey, a NATO member, during a phone call with Mr Erdogan on Thursday. The ambassador did not outline Kiev’s demands but said “financial, humanitarian, and military” support was needed.
Erdogan says Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘not acceptable’
Mr Erdogan, who had previously offered to mediate in the conflict, said in comments broadcast by Turkish TV: “Turkey supports Ukraine’s battle to protect its territorial integrity.
“We are sincerely saddened that Russia and Ukraine, both of whom we see as friendly countries and with whom we have close political, economic, and social relations, come face to face in this way.”
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar later discussed the latest developments in Eastern Europe with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov, his ministry said.
Mr Bodnar said after talks with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal: “Turkey will evaluate the requests and respond as soon as possible.
“We expect solidarity to be shown.”
Mr Celik said Turkey was evaluating the matter and would make a decision with the goal of not deepening the conflict in mind.
The crisis could pose a challenge to Turkey’s foreign policy as the country shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, meaning it would naturally like to continue to get on well with both.
On Thursday, as part of Moscow’s attack — the largest by one state against another in Europe since World War Two —, Russian forces landed at Ukraine’s Black and Azov Sea ports, which led to the suspension of commercial shipping and sparked fear of supply disruption from leading grain and oilseeds exporters, of whom Ankara is a big customer.
Ukraine competes with Russia to supply wheat to major buyers including Turkey.
It is also a top exporter of corn (maize), much of it destined for China and the European Union.
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